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Turkey Analysis: Discussions over Syria in Moscow --- What Do They Mean?

President Putin & Prime Minister ErdoganUPDATE: Elsewhere, Turkish soldiers backed by four helicopters have carried out an operation against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), searching the districts of Lice and Hazro ve Kocakoy of the southeastern province of Diyarbakir.

Yesterday, deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc said, "I can say assuredly that new horizons will open up on this subject (Syria) after our Prime Minister's visit to Russia and that new sanctions against Syria will come onto the agenda."

Arinc's comments were not only about the diplomatic situation. A Turkish official from the Foreign Ministry said that 330 Syrians including two generals fled to Turkey on Tuesday night, and the total number of Syrian refugees inside Turkey is more than 43,000. Ankara is still not sure if its F-4 reconnaissance aircraft,, lost on 22 June, was shot down by the Syrians --- possibly with Russian assistance --- or crashed due to a technical problem.

The Assad problem is becoming a real challenge for the Erdogan Government, given the deadlock in the political approach to the Syria crisis between Moscow and Washington, a deepening crisis between Ankara an, Baghdad, and the Western Kurdistan unity initiative led by the President of the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government, Massoud Barzani. In the midst of this"'full problem with neighbours"situation, Prime Minister Erdogan, Defense Minister Ismet Yilmaz, and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu paid their visit to Moscow today.

What is on the agenda? The downed jet will definitely be discussed and the Russian response will be watched closely. President Vladimir Putin's approach to the Assad regime will be tested. Since the inflexibility of the Assad regime may not be sustainable for the Russians, Ankara will play the willing potential mediator, with specific conditions --- such as Assad's leaving the power during a transitional period and the guarantee of a non-autonomous Kurdish region. There will also be a significant --- in political and monetary terms --- annex in discussion of Russian firms' great interest in providing Turkey long-range air and missile defense systems, hoping to beat American and Chinese competitors.

The Turks might use those Russian firms both to reduce the price of the US-made defense systems and to back Kremlin as a regional strategic asset in the Syrian case, especially as the Obama administration considers its strategy and position towards the opposition and insurgents. That link with Moscow is elevated if Russia is keen on adapting a new strategy that gives up on Assad and increase its pressure for a transitional government as agreed in Geneva in the short-term. As long as the Russian interest in Syria as a powerful bargaining chip vis-a-vis NATO is protected, Moscow is ready to give credibility to Ankara.

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